New U.S. stamp for 2022 honors Black, Native American woman from Upstate NY

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States, Women on 2022-01-06 03:30Z by Steven

New U.S. stamp for 2022 honors Black, Native American woman from Upstate NY

Geoff Herbert, Reporter and SEO Lead

New U.S. postal stamps honor Edmonia Lewis, a Black and Native American sculptor from Upstate New York.

A new U.S. stamp will honor an Upstate New York woman who was the first Black and Native American sculptor to earn international recognition.

The U.S. Postal Service said the 45th stamp in its Black Heritage series will celebrate Edmonia Lewis, who was born in 1844 in Greenbush, N.Y., and spent most of her career in Rome, Italy. According to the Times Union, her mother was an Ojibwa/Chippewa woman from Albany known for embroidering moccasins and her father was a freed slave who worked as a gentleman’s servant in Rensselaer County; when her mother died, Lewis was known as Wildfire while living with her maternal relatives.

“She identified first as a Native American. Later she identified more as an African American. She was in two worlds. She deserves her stamp,” Bobbie Reno, an East Greenbush town historian who campaigned for Lewis’ recognition, told the Times Union

…According to the USPS, the Edmonia Lewis stamp will debut Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 12:30 p.m. ET at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. The stamp, which features a portrait of Lewis based on a photograph of her in Boston between 1864 and 1871, will be available in post offices nationwide in panes of 20….

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Race and Racism in Nineteenth-Century Art: The Ascendency of Robert Duncanson, Edward Bannister, and Edmonia Lewis

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2021-06-10 00:49Z by Steven

Race and Racism in Nineteenth-Century Art: The Ascendency of Robert Duncanson, Edward Bannister, and Edmonia Lewis

University Press of Mississippi
282 pages
30 b&w illustrations
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496834348
Paperback ISBN: 9781496834355

Naurice Frank Woods Jr., Associate Professor of African American Studies
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Foreword by George Dimock, Associate Professor Emeritus of Art
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

The extraordinary struggle, achievement, loss, and reclamation of three brilliant African American artists of the 1800s

Painters Robert Duncanson (ca. 1821–1872) and Edward Bannister (1828–1901) and sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis (ca. 1844–1907) each became accomplished African American artists. But as emerging art makers of color during the antebellum period, they experienced numerous incidents of racism that severely hampered their pursuits of a profession that many in the mainstream considered the highest form of social cultivation. Despite barriers imposed upon them due to their racial inheritance, these artists shared a common cause in demanding acceptance alongside their white contemporaries as capable painters and sculptors on local, regional, and international levels.

Author Naurice Frank Woods Jr. provides an in-depth examination of the strategies deployed by Duncanson, Bannister, and Lewis that enabled them not only to overcome prevailing race and gender inequality, but also to achieve a measure of success that eventually placed them in the top rank of nineteenth-century American art.

Unfortunately, the racism that hampered these three artists throughout their careers ultimately denied them their rightful place as significant contributors to the development of American art. Dominant art historians and art critics excluded them in their accounts of the period. In this volume, Woods restores their artistic legacies and redeems their memories, introducing these significant artists to rightful, new audiences.

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Overlooked No More: Edmonia Lewis, Sculptor of Worldwide Acclaim

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States, Women on 2018-07-29 23:35Z by Steven

Overlooked No More: Edmonia Lewis, Sculptor of Worldwide Acclaim

The New York Times

Penelope Green

The 19th century sculptor Edmonia Lewis. The intense focus on her race both frustrated her and fueled her ambition.
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum

As an artist she transcended constraints, and as a woman of color, she confronted a society that wished to categorize her.

Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. With Overlooked, we’re adding the stories of remarkable people whose deaths went unreported in The Times.

It was the middle of the 19th century, and Edmonia Lewis, part West Indian, part Chippewa, had the audacity to be an artist. It was risky enough for a free woman of color to pursue such a career, but to claim marble as her medium was to tilt at the Victorian conventions of the time, which decreed gentler aesthetic forms for the second sex, like poetry or painting.

Among the first black sculptors known to achieve widespread international fame, Lewis was raised Catholic, educated at Oberlin College in Ohio and mentored by abolitionists in Boston. She lived much of her life in Rome, sailing to Europe in 1865 and joining a community of American sculptors there who included female artists derided by the author Henry James as “a white marmorean flock.”…

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Iconic Fine Arts Sculptor Edmonia Lewis Honored In Google Doodle

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-02-03 01:01Z by Steven

Iconic Fine Arts Sculptor Edmonia Lewis Honored In Google Doodle

The Huffington Post

Zahara Hill, Black Voices Editorial Fellow

Sophie Diao
The artist’s dedication to portraying her African-American and Native-American ancestry separated her from other sculptors. 

Black History Month began with the art of this lesser-known black icon.

In honor of the start of Black History Month on Wednesday, Google Doodle paid tribute to Edmonia Lewis, who is considered to be the first woman of African-American and Native American descent to earn global recognition as a fine arts sculptor.

Lewis, who was born in Greenbush, New York in 1844, is particularly known for sculpting on “The Death of Cleopatra,” which is a graphic but highly praised depiction of the death of the former Egyptian Queen. Google Doodler Sophie Diao told HuffPost she drew the illustration on Google’s homepage in homage to Lewis because she has always been inspired by her work…

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The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis. A Narrative Biography

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, United States, Women on 2015-02-03 02:41Z by Steven

The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis. A Narrative Biography

Esquiline Hill Press
567 pages (est.)
mobi ISBN: 978-1-58863-450-4
PDF ISBN: 978-1-58863-451-1
ePub ISBN: 978-1-58863-452-8

Harry Henderson

Albert Henderson

Edmonia Lewis was the first famous “colored sculptor” and the first to idealize her African and American Indian heritages in stone. She flourished from 1864 through 1878, and, as an artist, was a rare instrument for social change in the aftermath of the Civil War. She pressed her case for equality from her studio in Rome, Italy, and with annual tours of the United States.

Our new narrative of Lewis’s life and art updates many “established facts” – well beyond erroneous birth and death dates – with more than 100,000 words, 50 illustrations, 800 references, bibliography, index, and a reference list of more than 100 works with notes on museum holdings. It is based on private letters, public documents, essays, hundreds of news items, reviews of her work, museum collections, and more than two dozen published interviews. It reveals how a world biased against her color, class, gender and religion received her. Of special interest to African-American and American-Indian studies, as well as art, women’s, and American history, the narrative opens an abundance of previously unrecognized sources, reinterprets important relationships, names missing works, and corrects the identification of an important portrait. Students of the nineteenth century will find it a cool counterpoint to the bitter rage of Civil War and Reconstruction.

Readers familiar with her legendary icons of race may be surprised by her many portraits and her untold moves to Paris and London. They will also find answers to long-standing questions: Where, when, and how did she die? Why did her encounter with a bronze Ben Franklin leave her reeling? Why did she idealize a woman with African features only once in her career? Why did she never cite the now-famous Forever Free after her first interviews in Rome? Why did she have to stalk Henry Wadsworth Longfellow through the streets to make his portrait? Where was her studio? How often did she tour America? How did she enter her work in the 1876 Centennial expo, which had barred colored people absolutely? What were her relationships with fans, mentors, and fellow sculptors? Who were her rivals, her best friends, and her worst enemies? Fresh evidence, never before collected and collated, argues a novel motive for her erotic masterwork, the Death of Cleopatra, which sits apart in her œuvre like a hussy in a small town church. Newly realized sources also change our view of her childhood and provide ample support to refute distortions of her personal character, sexuality, and appearance.

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Child of the Fire: Mary Edmonia Lewis and the Problem of Art History’s Black and Indian Subject

Posted in Biography, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, Women on 2014-04-04 18:10Z by Steven

Child of the Fire: Mary Edmonia Lewis and the Problem of Art History’s Black and Indian Subject

Duke University Press
344 pages
51 illustrations, incl. 18 in color
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4247-2
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8223-4266-3

Kirsten Pai Buick, Associate Professor of Art History
University of New Mexico

Child of the Fire is the first book-length examination of the career of the nineteenth-century artist Mary Edmonia Lewis, best known for her sculptures inspired by historical and biblical themes. Throughout this richly illustrated study, Kirsten Pai Buick investigates how Lewis and her work were perceived, and their meanings manipulated, by others and the sculptor herself. She argues against the racialist art discourse that has long cast Lewis’s sculptures as reflections of her identity as an African American and Native American woman who lived most of her life abroad. Instead, by seeking to reveal Lewis’s intentions through analyses of her career and artwork, Buick illuminates Lewis’s fraught but active participation in the creation of a distinct “American” national art, one dominated by themes of indigeneity, sentimentality, gender, and race. In so doing, she shows that the sculptor variously complicated and facilitated the dominant ideologies of the vanishing American (the notion that Native Americans were a dying race), sentimentality, and true womanhood.

Buick considers the institutions and people that supported Lewis’s career—including Oberlin College, abolitionists in Boston, and American expatriates in Italy—and she explores how their agendas affected the way they perceived and described the artist. Analyzing four of Lewis’s most popular sculptures, each created between 1866 and 1876, Buick discusses interpretations of Hiawatha in terms of the cultural impact of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha; Forever Free and Hagar in the Wilderness in light of art historians’ assumptions that artworks created by African American artists necessarily reflect African American themes; and The Death of Cleopatra in relation to broader problems of reading art as a reflection of identity.

Table of Contents

  • Illustrations
  • Preface. Framing the Problem: American Africanisms, American Indianisms, and the Processes of Art History
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Inventing the Artist: Locating the Black and Catholic Subject
  • 2. The “Problem” of Art History’s Black Subject
  • 3. Longfellow, Lewis, and the Cultural Work of Hiawatha
  • 4. Identity, Tautology, and The Death of Cleopatra
  • Conclusion. Separate and Unequal: Toward a More Responsive and Responsible Art History
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Re-Visioning Wildfire: Historical Interpretations of the Life and Art of Edmonia Lewis

Posted in Biography, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Papers/Presentations, United States, Women on 2013-04-16 01:50Z by Steven

Re-Visioning Wildfire: Historical Interpretations of the Life and Art of Edmonia Lewis

Southeastern Oklahoma University
Native American Symposium
2005-Proceedings of the Sixth Native American Symposium
pages 31-39

Julieanna Frost
Concordia University

As a feminist historian, one of my major goals is to reclaim the histories of women and to broadcast the diversity of the female experience. In many ways creating a multicultural curriculum is a form of political activism for me. Regarding inclusive history, I strongly agree with Gloria Joseph, who stated that learning history “will help to shatter the prevailing mythology that inhibits so many from acting more decisively for social change and to create a more just society and viable future for all.” My first brief introduction to Edmonia Lewis came in the article “Object Into Subject: Some Thoughts on the Work of Black Women Artists” by Michelle Cliff, which was included in the anthology Making Face, Making Soul: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color. This piece created a desire for me to learn more about the life and work of Wildfire Mary Edmonia Lewis (ca. 1843 – ca. 1911).

In art encyclopedias and critiques, Lewis is often noted as the first African American female sculptor. To be more accurate, her father was African American and her mother was Anishinabe. Orphaned as a child, she was raised among her mother’s people. The majority of her work was accomplished between 1866 and 1876. Her art has primarily been read as a representation of her Black heritage, ignoring her strong connection to her Native American heritage. In an attempt to rectify this oversight, this paper will examine how her Anishinabe ancestry influenced Lewis’s life and artwork, and explain why scholars tend to ignore this ancestry.

Much of Lewis’s early life and later life went unrecorded. It is believed that she was born near Albany, New York around 1843 and named Wildfire. Her father was a free Black and her mother was Anishinabe. Lewis also had a brother, Sunrise. It appears that Lewis spent most of her early years with the Anishinabe. In an interview, Lewis related,

Mother was a wild Indian and was born in Albany, of copper color and with straight black hair. There she made and sold moccasins. My father, who was a Negro, and a gentleman’s servant, saw her and married her … Mother often left home and wandered with her people, whose habits she could not forget, and thus we were brought up in the same wild manner. Until I was twelve years old, I led this wandering life, fishing and swimming … and making moccasins.

In 1849, Lewis’s mother died and her maternal aunts took her in and raised her. Lewis recalled, “when my mother was dying, she wanted me to promise that I would live three years with her people, and I did.”…

…One reason Lewis is viewed as an African American artist is based upon the social construction of race, as it existed during her lifetime. Dating back to the 17th century, laws that affected Africans and a small number of Native Americans were passed in the English colonies that made slavery an inheritable condition that passed from mother to child. To make the institutionalization of slavery complete, most English colonies outlawed intermarriage between whites and “colored” people by the 18th century. In addition, the legal system did not recognize marriages between “colored” people, although such common law arrangements existed from the colonial period when Blacks and Indians were utilized as indentured servants and later as slaves for life. Nash noted that, “institutions created by white Americans have disguised the degree of red-black intermixing by defining the children of mixed red-black ancestry as black and using the term mulatto in many cases to define half-African, half-Indian persons.” This typology served the economic interests of the ruling class, since classifying these people as Black typically bestowed slave status upon them. Additionally, this classification decreased the population of Native American nations because whites did not acknowledge Black Indians as belonging to the tribe. In contrast to the white practice of racial classification, most of the Native American nations granted full tribal membership to mixed race people if the mother was a member of the tribe. At the time of her birth the Anishinabe also accepted mixed-bloods into the tribe. Although Lewis had an Anishinabe mother and lived among this nation during her formative years, white society classified her as black…

Read the entire paper here.

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Searching for the authentic Red-Black self: Depictions of African-Native subjectivity in literature, visual art, and film

Posted in Anthropology, Dissertations, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, United States on 2010-09-10 21:11Z by Steven

Searching for the authentic Red-Black self: Depictions of African-Native subjectivity in literature, visual art, and film

University of California, Berkeley
235 pages
AAT 3186996
ISBN: 9780542292071

Sarita Nyasha Cannon, Associate Professor of English
San Francisco State University

In this dissertation, I explore representations of a largely invisible multiracial group: people of Native American and African-American descent. Relying upon the two theoretical frameworks of cultural studies and multiculturalism outlined in Chapter 1, I analyze texts from various genres in order to understand the construction of Black-Red subjectivity. In Chapter 2, I examine the 1848 slave narrative/native autobiography The Life of Dr. Okah Tubbee. Written by a mulatto who passed as the son of a Choctaw chief in order to escape the slavery, this text exemplifies the performative possibilities of autobiography as well as Tubbee’s simultaneous rejection of Blackness and embrace of stereotypical ideas of Indian-ness. In Chapter 3, I look at another figure that straddles African American and Native American cultures, the fictional character of Rayona in Michael Dorris’ 1988 novel A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Like Tubbee, Rayona negotiates various identities. However, rather than being a somewhat tragic trickster figure who rejects Blackness as Tubbee does, Rayona is able to embrace her multiple subject positions in a variety of contexts. In Chapter 4, I focus on visual representations of African-Native Americans in the sculpture of African-Chippewa artist Edmonia Lewis and in the portraits of African-Choctaw photographer Valena Broussard Dismukes. I argue that despite Lewis’ familiarity with Native culture, she deploys stereotypes about American Indians in an attempt to gain a mainstream audience. Dismukes, on the other hand, creates portraits of contemporary Black Indians who can express their mixed heritage on their own terms. Finally, in Chapter 5, I explore two contemporary documentary films that reflect two opposite narratives of the history of Black-Native subjectivity. Steven Rich Heape’s film Black Indians celebrates people with African-Native heritage and elevates them to a special status. On the other hand, Long Lance, a documentary about a mixed-race man’s rejection of the one-drop rule and his fabrication of various Native American identities, emphasizes the tragic nature of “passing.” Implicit within my exploration of these cultural representations of Black Indians is the elusive quest for racial or cultural “authenticity,” a problematic goal that often unconsciously panders to an essentialized notion of identity. In their attempts to render authentic images of Blacks, Native Americans, and Black-Native Americans, these authors and artists often reinscribe stereotypes about these groups and thus reinforce the very racial and social hierarchies they intend to question.

Purchase the dissertation here.

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